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T. Rex were an English glam rock band fronted by guitarist, singer and songwriter Marc Bolan. Formed as Tyrannosaurus Rex in 1960s London, the folk rock group's debut album My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair... But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows (1968) reached number 15 in the UK. In the 1970s, they achieved mainstream success as a glam rock band with hits such as "Hot Love," "Get It On," "Telegram Sam" and "Metal Guru." After waning commercial success in the mid-70s, T. Rex ended in 1977 after Bolan was killed in a car accident.

History

Formation and folk era

Marc Bolan founded Tyrannosaurus Rex in August 1967. After a solitary performance as a four-piece at the Electric Garden in Covent Gardenmarker, the group immediately broke up. Bolan retained the services of percussionist Steve Peregrin Took and the duo began performing acoustic material with occasional homages to Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. The combination of Bolan's acoustic guitar and distinctive vocal style with Took's bongos and assorted percussion—which often included children's instruments such as the Pixiephone—earned them a devoted following in the thriving underground scene. Disc jockey John Peel befriended the band and ferried them to and from gigs in his Mini. Peel later appeared on record with them, reading stories written by Bolan. Another key collaborator was producer Tony Visconti, who went on to produce the band's albums well into their second, "glam rock", phase.

By 1968, Tyrannosaurus Rex had become a modest success on radio and on record, and had released three albums. While Bolan's early material was rock and roll-influenced folk, by now he was writing dramatic and Baroque songs with lush melodies and surreal lyrics filled with Greek and Persian mythology as well as creations of his own. The band became regulars on Peel Sessions on BBC radio, and toured Britain's student union halls. The group, however, received bad press from journalists and critics, who were annoyed at the overexposure they were getting on Peel's radio shows.

By 1969 there was a clear rift between the two halves of Tyrannosaurus Rex. While Bolan and his girlfriend June Child were living a quiet life, Took had fully embraced the anti-commercial/community-spirited/drug-taking ethos of the UK Underground scene centred around Ladbroke Grovemarker. Took was also attracted to anarchistic elements such as Mick Farren/Deviants and members of the Pink Fairies Rock 'n' Roll and Drinking Club.

Took was writing his own songs and wanted the duo to perform them, but Bolan firmly refused. Took contributed his talents and two songs to Twink's Think Pink album, which Bolan probably also did not approve of. Bolan's relationship with Took ended after Unicorn, although they were contractually obliged to go through with a US tour which was doomed before it began. Poorly promoted and planned, the acoustic duo were overshadowed by the loud electric acts they were billed with. To counter this, Took drew from the shock rock style of Iggy Pop; Took explained, "I took my shirt off in the Sunset Strip where we were playing and whipped myself till everybody shut up. With a belt, y'know, a bit of blood and the whole of Los Angeles shuts up. 'What's going on, man, there's some nutter attacking himself on stage' I mean, Iggy Stooge had the same basic approach."

As soon as he returned to the UK, Bolan replaced Took with bongo player Mickey Finn. They made A Beard of Stars, the final album under the Tyrannosaurus Rex moniker. Unlike Took, Finn had no songwriting aspirations; Tony Visconti commented he was not so talented as Took, "Mickey wasn't as inventive as Steve. Mickey's backing vocals weren't strong, so Marc would double-track them with his own voice for reinforcement".

Glam rock and commercial success

As well as progressively shorter titles, Tyrannosaurus Rex's albums began to show higher production values, more accessible songwriting from Bolan, and experimentation with electric guitars and a true rock sound. The breakthrough was "King of the Rumbling Spires" (recorded with Took), which used a full rock band. The group's next album, T. Rex, continued the process of simplification by shortening the name, and completed the move to electric guitars. Visconti supposedly got fed up with writing the name out in full on studio chitties and tapes and began to abbreviate it; when Bolan first noticed he was angry but later claimed the idea was his. The new sound was more pop-oriented, and the first single, "Ride a White Swan", reached number two in the UK in late 1970. In early 1971, T. Rex reached the Top 20 of the UK album charts.

"Ride a White Swan" was quickly followed by a second single, "Hot Love"—which reached the top spot on the UK charts, and remained there for six weeks. A full band, which featured bassist Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend, was formed to tour to growing audiences, as teenagers began replacing the hippies of old. After Chelita Secunda added two spots of glitter under Bolan's eyes before an appearance on Top of the Pops, the ensuing performance would often be viewed as the official birth of glam rock. After Bolan's display, glam rock would gain popularity in the UK and Europe during 1971-72. T. Rex's move to electric guitars coincided with Bolan's more overtly sexual lyrical style and image. The group's new image and sound outraged some of Bolan's older hippie fans, who branded him a "sell-out". Some of the lyrical content of Tyrannosaurus Rex remained, but the fairy tales about wizards and magic were now interspersed with sensuous grooves, replete with orgiastic moans and innuendo.

In September 1971, T. Rex released their second album Electric Warrior, which featured Currie and Legend. Often considered to be their best album, the chart-topping Electric Warrior brought much commercial success to the group; publicist BP Fallon coined the term "T. Rextasy" as a parallel to Beatlemania to describe the group's popularity. The album included T. Rex's best-known song, "Get It On," which hit number one in the UK. In January 1972 it became a Top Ten hit in the US, where the song was retitled "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" to distinguish it from a 1971 song by the group Chase. Along with David Bowie's early hits, "Get It On" was among the few British glam rock songs that was successful in the US. However, the album still recalled Bolan's acoustic roots with ballads such as "Cosmic Dancer" and the stark "Girl". Soon after, Bolan left Fly Records; after his contract had lapsed, the label released the album track "Jeepster" as a single without his permission. Bolan went to EMI, where he was given his own record label in the UK—T. Rex Records, the "T. Rex Wax Co.".

On 18 March 1972, T. Rex played two shows at the Empire Pool, Wembleymarker which were filmed by Ringo Starr and his crew for Apple Films. A large part of the second show was included on Bolan's own rock film Born to Boogie, while bits and pieces of the first show can be seen throughout the film's end-credits. Along with T. Rex and Starr, Born to Boogie also features Elton John, who jammed with the friends to create rocking studio versions of "Children of the Revolution" and "Tutti Frutti"; Elton John had appeared on TV with Bolan before, miming the piano part of "Get it On" on the 1971 Christmas edition of Top of the Pops.

T. Rex's third album The Slider was released in July 1972. The band's most successful album in the US, The Slider wasn't as successful as its predecessor in the UK, where it peaked at the fourth spot. During spring/summer 1972, Bolan's old label Fly released the chart-topping compilation album Bolan Boogie, a collection of singles, B-sides and LP tracks, which affected The Slider's sales. Although the two singles from The Slider, "Telegram Sam" and "Metal Guru", both flopped in the US, they became number one hits in the UK. Born to Boogie premiered at the Oscar One cinema in London, in December 1972. The film received negative reviews from critics, while it was loved by fans.

Decline and resurgence

Tanx (1973) would mark the end of the classic T. Rex line up. An album full of melancholy ballads and rich production, Tanx showcased the T. Rex sound bolstered by extra instrumental embellishments such as Mellotron and saxophone. During the recording T. Rex members began to quit, starting with Bill Legend in November 1973. Legend felt alienated by Bolan's increasingly egotistical behaviour, which was fed by success, money, cocaine, and brandy.

Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow was released on 1 February 1974, and reached number 12 in the UK. The album harked back to the Tyrannosaurus Rex days with long song-titles and lyrical complexity, but was not a critical success, T. Rex by now had an extended line-up which included second guitarist Jack Green and BJ Cole on pedal steel. Soon after the album's release, Bolan split with producer Tony Visconti. And then in December 1974, Mickey Finn too left T. Rex.

Bolan's Zip Gun (1975) was self-produced by Bolan who, in addition to writing the songs, gave his music a harder, more futuristic sheen. The final song recorded with Visconti, "Till Dawn", was re-recorded for Bolan's Zip Gun with Bolan at the controls. Bolan's own productions were not well received in the music press; Rolling Stone magazine gave Zinc Alloy one star out of five, while the British press slammed T. Rex for copying Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Always a fantasist with an alleged Napoleon complex, during this time Bolan became increasingly isolated, while high tax rates in the UK drove him into exile in Monte Carlo and the US. No longer a vegetarian, Bolan grew heavy on a diet of hamburgers and alcohol, and was ridiculed in the music press.

T. Rex's penultimate album, Futuristic Dragon (1976), featured a schizophrenic production style that veered from wall of sound-style songs to nostalgic nods to the old T. Rex boogie machine. It only managed to reach number 50, but the album was better received by the critics and featured the singles "New York City" (number 15 in the UK) and "Dreamy Lady" (number 30). To promote the album, T. Rex toured the UK, and performed on television shows such as Top of the Pops, Supersonic and Get It Together.

In the summer of 1976, T. Rex released two more singles, "I Love to Boogie" (which charted at number 13) and "Laser Love", which made number 42. In early 1977 Dandy in the Underworld was released to critical acclaim. Bolan had slimmed down and regained his elfin looks, and the songs too had a stripped-down, streamlined sound. A spring UK tour with punk band The Damned on support garnered positive reviews. As Bolan was enjoying a new surge in popularity, he talked about performing again with Finn and Took, as well as reuniting with producer Tony Visconti.

Bolan's death and breakup

Marc Bolan and his girlfriend Gloria Jones spent the evening of 15 September 1977 drinking at the Speakeasy and then dining at Morton's club on Berkeley Square, central London. While driving home early the morning of 16 September, Jones crashed Bolan's purple Mini 1275GT into a tree (now the site of Bolan's Rock Shrine), at Barnes Bridgemarker, Barnesmarker, South West London—less than a mile from his home at 142 Upper Richmond Road West in East Sheenmarker. While Jones was severely injured, Bolan was killed in the crash, two weeks before his 30th birthday.

In a radio interview with Nicky Horne in 1973, Horne asked, "Where does Marc Bolan hope to be in five years time?" Bolan replied, "I hope to be alive still, that's all I can say". Bolan is reported to have told Gloria Jones he didn't expect to see 30 or his son's second birthday. A copy of the NME found in Bolan's wrecked Mini car was open at an interview with Pete Townshend, the headline on the interview reading, "Hope I Die Before I Get Old".

Bolan's death caused the end of T. Rex but former member Mickey Finn and latter-day T. Rex session drummer Paul Fenton formed Mickey Finn's T-Rex in 1997 along with several other musicians including vocalist Rob Benson and former Smokie guitarist Alan Silson. Following Finn's death in 2003 the remaining members continued on as T. Rex (A Celebration of Mark and Mickey) and have since reverted to Mickey Finn's T-Rex with the blessing of Mickey's family.

Influence

T. Rex have vastly influenced the glam rock, punk rock and Britpop genres. Many modern indie bands play music heavily influenced by the glam scene. The early acoustic material was influential in helping to bring about progressive rock and 21st century folk music-influenced singers.

Discography

As Tyrannosaurus Rex


As T. Rex


Members



Notes

john truelove drummer

References

  • Paytress, Mark. "Marc Bolan: T. Rextasy". Mojo. May 2005.
  • Paytress, Mark. Bolan: The Rise and Fall of a 20th Century Superstar. Omnibus Press. 2003.
  • McLenehan, Cliff. Marc Bolan: 1947–1977 A Chronology. Helter Skelter Publishing. 2002.
  • Ewens, Carl. Born to Boogie: The Songwriting of Marc Bolan. Aureus Publishing. 2007.


External links




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